Much has just been made in the media about the figurative ticking time bomb that’s about to blow up the world — the one that arrived when the Doomsday Clock reset its hands to two minutes before midnight.
But let’s not read too much into it. One of the clock setters’ biggest concerns seems to be President Donald Trump’s rhetoric.
Doomsday Clock deciders just moved the hands from two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, where it stood for the previous year, to this two minute mark — where it’s not stood since 1953 when the United States and Russia both ran thermonuclear tests.
Trump’s rhetoric is as dangerous than that?
Sounds as if the good scientists of the Doomsday Clock board need a simple reminder of the childhood taunt that goes, sticks and stones may break bones, but names will never hurt.
“The greatest risks last year,” the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board wrote, “arose in the nuclear realm. North Korea’s nuclear weapons program made remarkable progress in 2017, increasing risks to North Korea itself, other countries in the region, and the United States.”
That may be true, but curiously, the real danger to Doomsday deciders wasn’t so much North Korea’s nuclear designs as Donald Trump’s return-fire rhetoric.
“Hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions by both sides have increased the possibility of nuclear war by accident or miscalculations,” the board went on.
The board then went on to add that rising U.S.-Russia and U.S.-China tensions, continuing Pakistani-India nuclear development and ongoing Mideast uncertainties — specifically, “uncertainty about continued U.S. support for the landmark Iranian nuclear deal” — has all contributed to the inch toward global destruction. So, too, has climate change dangers, including Trump’s removal of America from the Paris accord, as well as technology advances that have disrupted democracies and supposedly, elections, the board said.
But it’s the Trump tough talk and America First messaging that’s really ratcheting the global risks, at least for these judges.
Reading on: “[T]here has also been a breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent U.S. actions. In 2017, the United States backed away from its long-standing leadership role in the world … Neither allies nor adversaries have been able to reliably predict U.S. actions — or understand when U.S. pronouncements are real, and when they are mere rhetoric. International diplomacy has been reduced to name-calling, giving it a surrealistic sense of unreality that makes the world security situation ever more threatening,” the board said.
Sift through the parsed language and what these clock watchers are really getting at is that Trump’s manner of speaking — his manner of matching mockery with mockery, attack with attack, threat and intimidation with threat and intimidation — has brought the world to the brink of self-destruction.
More so, apparently, than most any other time in the history of Doomsday Clock ratings, which began in 1947.
More so than the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 — because, as the board noted, the true dangers of this standoff weren’t immediately known. As such, the hands on the Doomsday Clock didn’t budge during this 10-day timeframe.
More so than in 1949, when then-Soviet Union powers tested its first atomic bomb, an act that earned a three-minute-to-midnight Doomsday Clock setting.
More so than when U.S. foreign policy was a mess under Jimmy Carter’s administration — when Iranians, for instance, were busily grabbing America’s diplomats and citizens and holding them hostage for 444 days. Heck, during that whole Carter period, the whole four years of his presidency, the closest to midnight the Doomsday Clock moved was seven minutes to midnight — and that was in 1980, in the waning days of his single term.
As a quick comparison-slash-sidenote, the clock under Ronald Reagan moved quickly to four minutes to midnight in 1981, and again in 1984, to three minutes to midnight.
To Doomsdayers, the Trump era, which has only been one year, by the way, has nonetheless ushered in more dangers than September 11, 2001, and the terror attacks on the United States — when the clock didn’t budge from its 1998 setting of nine minutes to midnight — and more dangers than seen during the entire diplomatic-at-all-costs Barack Obama administration, when the clock shifted from six minutes to midnight, to five minutes to midnight in 2012 and three minutes to midnight in 2015 and 2016.
This Trump talk — it’s a real killer all right.
“In 2017, we saw reckless language in the nuclear realm heat up already dangerous situations and re-learned that minimizing evidence-based assessments regarding climate change and other global challenges does not lead to better public policies,” said Bulletin of Atomic Scientists president and CEO Rachel Bronson.
Sorry, just don’t see the need for the five-alarm fiery warnings.
In the end, rhetoric is just rhetoric. A nanny-nanny-boo-boo, no matter how you slice is, is not a terror attack that kills thousands, or a rogue abduction that keeps hostage hundreds.
Cheryl Chumley may be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter, @ckchumley.